A Guide to Surviving the Product Zombie Apocalypse

By David Nash
November 08, 2016

Look around: It’s a desolate wasteland. Zombies walk the earth, slowly, relentlessly. They are hungry and they don’t discriminate. Before they turn on you and eat you alive, it’s time to blow them away and send them to their final rest.

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Look around: It’s a desolate wasteland. Zombies walk the earth, slowly, relentlessly. They are hungry and they don’t discriminate. Before they turn on you and eat you alive, it’s time to blow them away and send them to their final rest.

This isn’t a scene from a movie, it’s your product portfolio. But the threat is no less real, and your need to act is no less vital.

It seems like only yesterday: Your product portfolio was young and thriving. It had a bright future. At first, you didn’t even notice as some products slowly lost their vitality. But over time, most customers moved elsewhere, perhaps to a competitive offering or to one of your newer products. You tapered off your investment because there were so many other priorities competing for scarce nourishment. Maybe your product stopped growing—or worse, it continued to grow even as you starved it. Because these products didn’t mutate into zombies overnight, you can be forgiven for failing to notice them slowly decompose. But they’re now at your door, and soon it will be too late.

                                                      

Are You a Product Zombie Enabler? Take the Quiz

The more questions you answer “yes” to, the more likely you are to have enabled these insidious creatures to roam your customer base:

1. Does all your energy go into new product development and introduction? We all know the new stuff is sexy—and customers are waiting—but don’t take your eyes off your existing products for too long. Ask yourself these questions to see how diligent you are: Do your roadmaps indicate the removal of existing or legacy products, or just the birth of new ones? Does each new product or release explicitly provide conversion or migration tools to move existing customer data forward, so you can retire the old versions?

2. Is your leave-no-customer-behind strategy well-intended but flawed? You chose to let sleeping zombies lie by allowing your customers to remain on outdated products, instead of potentially causing disruption by asking them to upgrade. Now they are far behind, and you’re likely to disrupt them even more when you ask them to climb out of a deep technology well.

3. Did you agree to unrealistic, restrictive contracts? You made well-intended promises to protect your customers’ investments (a good thing) and agreed not to change or replace any software during the contract period. What were you thinking? Now you must either sell your way out of your existing contract into a newer product, or buy your way out and cut your losses.

4. Does your sales team prioritize renewals over new sales? Do they discount—or even give away—the older product? It’s generally easier to ask a client to renew than switch to something different. The truth is you have to do both.

5. Do your current products have capability gaps compared to the products they replace? When you rolled out the minimum viable product of your latest and greatest, you skipped providing complete backward compatibility, then never went back to build these capabilities out. Now your customers have to give up something to move forward. This may be the single most common reason why customers stick with your old products. Now, you must either provide feature parity with what they already have or guide them to a better workflow, so they can abandon their prior practices and feature expectations.

6. Are customers highly invested in and productive with your older product? That’s a good thing, but now they don’t want to change and lose efficiencies. Perhaps they know how to customize and run older reports, have memorized hotkey combinations, or have built custom add-ons to meet their needs. This provides a huge switching cost for you to overcome. Your new product value proposition must exceed the switching cost, hopefully substantially.

7. Are you unable to walk away from your old products because too much revenue is at risk? If so, you may need to do this in stages. First, try to sell your way out and convert these customers to your latest offerings. Next, establish a realistic revenue threshold, below which all key stakeholders agree to walk away from the residual business. Or, establish a milestone that, once passed, allows you to achieve the same goal.

Then, begin to tilt the table so customers willingly move by themselves from the old to the new. Use various pricing incentives to drive conversions to your new product, or create disincentives to staying on the old products (like higher support costs, etc.). You won’t convert them all, so don’t make that your goal. Finally, once the revenue threshold or milestone has passed, run an aggressive end-of-life program until all customers have either been migrated or are known lost. Then, turn off the lights.

8. Has a different organization assumed ownership of your product and you lost the recipe? If this has happened, assign an interim product manager (your undertaker) and make it their mission to transition this product into the grave.

9. Has the original product champion become an executive who doesn’t want to retire it? It happens more often than you think. But nobody wants a rotting zombie as their legacy. Gather the data, construct the business case (refer to Upgrade Your Arsenal) and convince them with data until they come around.

10. Does change seem too hard? If you fear change, you’re in the wrong job.

 

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About the Authors

  • David Nash earned his zombie-hunting credentials as vice president of product management at CDK Global, the largest global provider of integrated IT and digital marketing solutions to the automotive retail industry. Prior to joining CDK, David spent 16 years at Intel Corp. in various roles, including product management, product marketing, Intel Capital and new-business incubation. A product junkie, David founded ProductCamp Portland in 2012 as group therapy for product management professionals, and he serves on the organizing committee for this annual event. He lives in beautiful Portland, Oregon, and can be reached at david@pcamppdx.org, @pdxproductguy and LinkedIn.


Categories:  Strategy


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